Dialoguing to death
While Washington lawmakers are trying to pass a tough new bill to decrease religious persecution overseas, the liberal National Council of Churches is taking a different approach. Last week the NCC flew in seven religious leaders from around the world to spread the gospel of group hugs. Their message: The Wolf-Specter Freedom from Religious Persecution Act would hurt ecumenical efforts in their countries. The NCC representatives argued that by imposing sanctions for outrages such as killings and kidnappings of Christians, the Wolf-Specter bill would make it harder to "dialogue" with the perps. "We have to increase the dialogue," insisted a representative from Pakistan. "The church is making efforts toward improving interfaith relations that would be hampered by the passing of this legislation." Said an Indonesian representative: "We have to increase the dialogue. If [Wolf-Specter] passes, it will jeopardize the whole relationship." "Dialogue" to religious liberals has long meant downplaying the distinctives of Christianity to make it more palatable to unbelievers. Rather than forcing foreign governments to recognize the right of Christians to be different, the NCC prefers that believers learn to blend in and get along.
24 hours of fame
The United Nations would like to wish WORLD readers a merry World Television Day and a most happy World Day for Water. And please, enjoy the International Decade for Natural Disaster Reduction. The world body has so many special-interest groups to appease that its calendar is sprinkled with 44 different holy days of globalism. From International Day of Tolerance to World Meteorological Day, almost any politically correct cause can feel appreciated for 24 hours. World AIDS Day gets a lot of press, but who commemorates World TB Day or World No-Tobacco Day? For that matter, who knew that the Palestinians alone get two days with long bureaucratic names: the International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People and the International Day of Innocent Child Victims of [Israeli] Aggression? Nobody can put a price tag on all these non-events, although records do show that the World Health Organization spent $100,000 for thousands of posters in Third World countries promoting 1998's World Health Day. Nor does anyone know how many U.S. tax dollars pay for liberal love feasts like the International Day of Women and the International Day of Older Persons. Many of these holidays are celebrated only with a dull speech by a diplomat-followed, of course, by a cocktail party. Others are used as publicity stunts. Last October, some poor Swiss citizens were selected to read out human-rights declarations at the UN's European headquarters in Geneva to celebrate the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty. The UN even took to the Internet to figure out what to do with Human Rights Day. Someone suggested decorating trains and buses with quotations from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Someone else wanted to print the entire document on the back of the world's cereal boxes. The cereal idea didn't fly, perhaps because the very idea of children around the world eating Kellogg's Corn Flakes violates the spirit of the International Decade for the Eradication of Colonialism.
World in brief
Free as a bird
Birdwatchers said they were happy to sight an American robin after being held captive more than a month by guerrillas in Colombia. Americans Louise Augustine, 63, a former nun from Illinois; Peter Shen, 35, a cell biologist in New York; and Todd Mark, 32, a flight attendant from Houston, were released by guerrillas last week and returned to the United States. A fourth birdwatcher, Tom Fiore, a 42-year-old bicycle repairman from New York, escaped earlier. The former hostages said they left behind seven other hostages in the camp, including a German and an American. High cost of speaking out
Roman Catholic Bishop Juan Gerardi Conedera of Guatemala held an April 24 news conference to release a report on atrocities committed during his country's civil war. The report, titled Never Again, relied on thousands of interviews by church workers over three years. It blamed the army and its paramilitaries for 80 percent of killings during a war that ended in 1996. Two days later, on April 26, the bishop was murdered. He was found in a pool of blood in the garage of his San Sebastian home after apparently being bludgeoned to death with a cement block. Not ready to "close the file"
The United Nations Security Council voted to extend sanctions against Iraq, ignoring threats from Baghdad that it would disrupt future arms inspections in reply. U.S. ambassador to the UN Bill Richardson acknowledged that the United States faces eroding support for unlimited sanctions against Iraq, which have been in place since 1990, but he objected to calls to "close the file" on some weapons inspections. At the same time, the UN's chief arms inspector for Iraq said experts discovered active mustard gas last month in artillery shells found at an Iraqi munitions depot in 1996.
For environmentalists, it's the ultimate Catch-22: Sacrifice a "treasured ecosystem" or the lives of several million of God's creatures. Seems the 6 million snow geese that migrate each summer from the Gulf Coast to the Canadian arctic are turning the tundra there into "a botanical desert." To protect the environment, the goose population has to be cut by half, scientists say, and they are debating options including napalm, unlimited hunting, even calling out military troops to gather and destroy millions of goose eggs. The Humane Society, predictably enough, has condemned such plans as a "massive, unjustifiable, and inhumane slaughter." The worst part of all is that the environmental mayhem seems at first glance to be caused by nature itself-geese vs. the tundra, with no human culpability. But no. "The problem is of our own making," insists Frank Gill of the National Audubon Society. He blames American farmers for producing unlimited grain that allows the geese to survive the harsh Canadian climate.
By what authority?
Time for political trivia: What all-but-forgotten historical document did Republican candidate Bob Dole regularly pull from his coat pocket and read aloud during his 1996 presidential campaign? A copy of the 10th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution? Go to the head of the class. The 10th Amendment, last but not least in the Bill of Rights, says the powers of the national government are to be restricted to those specifically "delegated ... by the Constitution." All other governmental powers are to be "reserved to the states ... or to the people." Mr. Dole assured voters that the language of the Amendment would be the guiding principle of his administration. He never got a chance to break his promise. Two months after the Dole defeat, however, constitutionalists took heart. As part of a package of rule changes enacted on the opening day of the 105th Congress, the House of Representatives voted to require that any legislation coming out of a committee cite "the specific powers granted to the Congress in the Constitution to enact the law [being] proposed." Not surprisingly, the new rule has had virtually no effect, failing to stop-or even slow down-any legislation, no matter how apparently Constitution-violating. Why? Congressional committees, despite being controlled by the GOP, have simply echoed the power-expanding rulings of 20th-century federal courts. Committees have justified everything from the African Elephant Conservation Reauthorization Act to spending taxpayer money to start 2,500 new Boys and Girls Clubs simply by citing the Constitution's Article 1, Section 8: "The Congress shall have power to ... provide for the ... general welfare of the United States ... [and to] regulate commerce ... among the several states." Rep. John Shadegg (R-Ariz.), the driving force behind the constitutional authority rule, isn't giving up. Since 1995, he's been pushing for a law-instead of a simple rule change-that would allow "a point of order" to be raised against constitutionally questionable bills during House floor debate. Theoretically, any bill that exceeded constitutionally prescribed congressional authority could simply be ruled "out of order," forcing the bill to be removed from consideration. But the Republican leadership has shown no interest in Mr. Shadegg's bill. Despite generating 103 co-sponsors, the Enumerated Powers Act died in the 104th Congress without so much as a single committee hearing. This time around, only about 75 members have signed on. One of those supporters is physician-turned-congressman Ron Paul (R-Texas), called "Dr. No" by his colleagues due to his steadfast refusal to vote in favor of any legislation not specifically authorized by the constitution. Although he would like to see enactment of the Enumerated Powers Act, Mr. Paul believes the tendency of Congress to violate both the spirit and the letter of the 10th Amendment cannot be altered legislatively. What's needed, he told WORLD, is a cultural change that will come only by "raising up a new generation of people who believe in limited government."
From "minimal to extremely serious"
The millennium bug is quietly gnawing its way into politics. The Senate Commerce Committee last week held hearings on efforts to ensure that disaster does not strike when computers mistake Jan. 1, 2000, for Jan. 1, 1900. "It is impossible today to forecast the impact of this event," said Federal Reserve Governor Ed Kelley. "The range of possibilities runs from minimal to extremely serious." He tried to be optimistic, however, saying that if everybody pitches in, the bug's bite will be less painful. But computer geeks don't come cheap, so all that work could get expensive. Richard R. Grasso, head of the New York Stock Exchange, testified that fixing a company's custom-made programs could cost from $500 to more than $1,000 each. A medium-sized company would spend over $4 million to ensure its systems will work 18 months from now. Since the world's financial markets are interconnected, no one is isolated from the problem. "We view the dimensions of this issue as enormous," Mr. Grasso testified, "with potentially disastrous global consequences to both business and government." He said the exchange is working feverishly to make sure the first trading day of 2000 goes smoothly. FCC chairman William Kennard also testified on the bug. "It is a potential crisis," he said, noting that communications systems-from satellites to air-traffic control to police radios-are vital to everyday life. Meanwhile, the everyday life of trial lawyers brightened considerably when California's attempt to limit lawsuits over Y2K glitches died in committee. That could lead to a legal feeding frenzy as companies sue computer makers to try to recoup some of the cost of exterminating the millennium bug. The bug's bite could be painful for everyone, but for Al Gore it may be fatal. A recent survey of corporate executives found that 43 percent say Mr. Gore's presidential campaign will crash if the Year 2000 computer problem isn't fixed.
A tense 50th
Israel marked its 50th anniversary since becoming a Jewish state after British authorities ceded control of Palestine in 1948. The Israeli government and the Palestinian Authority agreed to close the border between PA-controlled areas and Israel through May 3 in an attempt to keep Hamas and other Muslim fundamentalists from targeting Israelis. Security measures did not overshadow the milestone, however, as high-profile guests joined in celebrations and remembrances of the Holocaust. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said: "Many expect Israel to withdraw from areas that are the cradle of Jewish civilization, to relinquish control over strategic assets, and to leave itself vulnerable to attack.... This we cannot do." In more specific reference to American pressure in the current negotiations, he said, "If the United States insists on a withdrawal from 13 percent of Judea and Samaria, there will not be an agreement."
Nation in brief
If William Ginsburg's public posturing was true, reporters knew before he did that his client, ex-White House intern Monica Lewinsky, will not receive immunity in the investigation of an alleged presidential affair and possible cover-up. A federal judge ruled last week against Mr. Ginsburg's contention that Whitewater prosecutors had a binding agreement not to prosecute the former intern in exchange for her cooperation. Meanwhile, in Little Rock, a grand jury viewed First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton's videotaped testimony on Whitewater. She refused to answer two questions on grounds of marital privilege. The questioning focused on Mrs. Clinton's work while at the Rose Law Firm in Little Rock for the failing savings and loan owned by the Clintons' Whitewater partners, the McDougals. A day after the weekend taping of her testimony, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch appeared on Meet the Press and predicted the first lady would be in a heap of trouble. Mrs. Clinton's "fingerprints are on almost everything from Whitewater up until now," and he expects Kenneth Starr's report will be highly critical of her actions. Scandal watch
Internal Revenue Service whistleblowers and taxpayers recounted before a Senate panel horror stories about their dealings with the IRS. Three people described how armed IRS agents appeared at their businesses with search warrants and seized records, even though the raids didn't result in criminal cases. Some Democrats defended the IRS; New York Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan didn't, saying some IRS actions had "the quality of fascism" about them.
Mention Jesus and we'll sue
High schools are generally expected to send their students on to college. But in Virginia, the American Civil Liberties Union is fighting to make sure that doesn't happen. Just before Billy Graham's son Franklin was to begin a crusade at the University of Virginia May 1, the liberal litigation group sent threatening letters to local high school principals asking them to bar the evangelist from their schools, lest impressionable youngsters be tempted to attend his evening services at the university. Kent Willis, executive director of the Virginia ACLU, wrote the principals last month to warn of the link between Mr. Graham's nonsectarian public-school pep talks and his crusade preaching. "Due to their close association with a religious festival sponsored by the Franklin Graham Crusade," Mr. Willis said, "these assemblies will violate the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution." The ACLU concedes Mr. Graham appears at no cost to the schools and talks only about personal values. But Mr. Willis claims that Mr. Graham's own promotional materials tell parents that the real purpose of the talks is to boost crusade attendance. "If I were a school principal, the whole program would make me very nervous," Mr. Willis said. The group says it will be happy only if Mr. Graham doesn't promote his crusade or mention Christ. Otherwise, they will call in the lawyers. Last November, the ACLU sent monitors to hear 12 aides of Franklin Graham speak at a Wichita public school. The ACLU goal: Make sure nobody talked about Jesus.
Barring the Gates
Bill Gates usually holds his political cards close to his vest, preferring to live under a cloud of bipartisanship. His dark side was revealed when he gave $1.7 million to the population controllers at the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA). "This is a very generous grant and a very wise investment for the future," beamed Nafis Sadik, UNFPA executive director. "It encourages and supports developing countries' efforts to create and improve their own population programs." The Microsoft CEO, who is worth about $40 billion, gave a three-year grant to an organization called Partners in Population and Development, which has roots in the UN's 1994 Cairo population conference. According to the Partners, the best way to deal with Third World problems is to have fewer Third Worlders walking around. The group offers an exchange of "population and reproductive health" resources among a dozen developing nations. Mr. Gates also gave $200,000 to help track the Cairo conference's success at stalling world population growth. This involves a series of bureaucratic get-togethers that will end with a special meeting of the UN General Assembly next summer. A UNFPA statement announcing the gift explained Cairo's goals with feminist euphemisms about "gender equality," "the empowerment of women," and "universally available health care." This isn't the first time Bill Gates has supported population control. A year ago he gave Johns Hopkins University $2.25 million to launch the Family Planning Leadership Education Institute, which studies population and trains Third World family planners. Fellowships and scholarships are offered in Mr. Gates's name. Mr. Gates said last May that he and his wife "are anxious that the wonderful progress which has been made in diminishing the world's potentially disastrous birth rate over the last 30 years continues."